Leadership, taxes take spotlight in top race
Perhaps one of the most hotly contested races in the upcoming Carter County Republican Primary is that of county mayor.
Incumbent Mayor Leon Humphrey is being challenged by County Commissioner Joel K. Street Sr.
The mayor, who is seeking a second term at the job, has had a rocky road during his first four years at the helm of the county government, due to a strained relationship with county commission.
Street, a member of the current commission, says if given the opportunity to be mayor, he can make a difference in county government. “I believe with the right leadership and the ability to listen to different points of view, we can work together for the common good of Carter County,” Street said.
While Street touts communication as one of his stronger points, Humphrey points to fiscal management as a leadership quality.
Humphrey says he has actively worked to save the county money. “In less than one term, I’ve brought in well over a million dollars. It’s not a lot of money, but when you look at the scope of things, it is,” he said, when announcing his candidacy earlier this year.
However, he said the efforts he has made are overshadowed by continual increases in property taxes.
“At the county level, our property taxes are increasing as services decline,” he wrote in his campaign brochure. “It is projected that by 2015, property taxes could rise as high at $2.75 per $100 assessed value – giving Carter County, the highest property tax rate in the First Tennessee Development District.”
Humphrey says the next mayor, whether it be him or someone else, will have to deal with the bleeding off of reserves in the Debt Service and General Fund accounts because of decisions made by the current commission. “We’ve bled those reserves down to a point where next year especially with Debt Service, there is going to be a major shortfall.”
The new commission to be elected this August will have a lot of work to do to regain control of the county’s finances, Humphrey said.
Just as he profoundly believes that government must be run like a business, Humphrey from the beginning has pushed for a smaller, more efficient form of government.
“We do not need 24 commissioners in Carter County,” Humphrey said. Whether it is 16 or nine commissioners, he said a reduction is necessary to move the county forward at a more expeditious pace.
With a second term, Humphrey imagines Carter County’s future to include an environmental law court, a historical document department and archive, planning for a downtown hotel, a single-stream recycling program, and use of “sound business practices,” as well as new technology.
Tasks Humphrey said he has been able to facilitate are the establishment of a private sector audit committee, improvement of the Carter County website to include video and an online payment method, as well as the renovation of the Veteran’s Monument.
Humphrey in his campaign brochure says he is committed to: basing financial decisions on sound business practices, opposing unnecessary tax increases, auditing budgets and eliminating wasteful spending, insisting on government transparency, working to attract employment opportunities and business to Elizabethton, making commission and board appointments based on qualifications, and maintaining an open door policy.
Humphrey’s GOP Primary election opponent said he is seeking the mayor’s post because he is concerned with the state of government in the county. Street said he would like to encourage citizens to come together and support a common interest to improve the county.
Street has represented the Hampton and Roan Mountain districts on the county commission, during which time he has served as chairman for the Carter County Landfill and Highway committees.
Another interest of Street’s is economic development. “Growth is not just about industrialization, but housing as well. If you put up 100 homes in Carter County, it helps the tax base. We need to be friendly in all economic development areas. We have to be positive in selling Carter County,” he said.
Street said he has learned that being financially proactive is not the only quality a mayor should have, but being a team player and a great communicator are also essential to a mayor’s success.
“It’s about being able to work with others,” Street said. “We have to be able to communicate with each other. You could have the greatest ideas, but if you don’t have the ability to sell them, then nothing is going to happen.”
Through his work with the landfill committee, Street said he has learned how to embrace what the county has available and how to explore all possible avenues that could help improve citizens’ lives.
“I want people to have a better life, and I will work for growth in Carter County in every area,” he said.
The winner of the GOP Primary will face Rep. Kent Williams, an Independent, in the August General Election.